Pathfinder (Dragon Age Setting)
Dalish Elves and Halflings
“In time, the human empires will crumble. We have seen it happen countless times. Until then, we wait, we keep to the wild border lands, we raise halla and build aravels and present a moving target to the humans around us. We try to keep hold of the old ways, to relearn what was forgotten.”
— Gisharel, Keeper of the Ralaferin Clan
Dalish elves lead nomadic lives, wandering throughout Thedas. The clans date back to the ruling clans of the Dales and the Dalish themselves are their descendants. As such, they consider themselves to have the “purest” blood from the time of Arlathan. Dalish elves seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms and for that purpose they’ll often seek out old elven ruins for such things in the face of danger. They still revere the elven pantheon and each member of a tribe will tattoo the symbol of their chosen god on their face.
They travel around the more remote reaches of Thedas in covered wagons called aravels, special wagons with large triangular sails atop them and rudder-like devices on the back. The Dalish elves are also known for being the only race adept at forging ironbark, a unique substance stronger and lighter than steel, used to make their weapons and certain other items of clothing, such as amulets. These, along with carved Halla horns, are highly valued and are often used to trade with humans for things they cannot make on their own like metals for their weapons.
Dalish elves tend to keep to their own and avoid humans whenever they can, but will occasionally encounter human travelers, or venture near human settlements to trade. At the threat of these encounters becoming violent, a Dalish clan will likely withdraw before any real force of humans gets involved, but they will often still be willing to stand their ground. In the long run, hostilities with humans will likely end badly for the elves, especially if a kingdom decides that a certain clan has become more trouble than it is worth. The Dalish are known to refer to their city cousins as ‘flat ears’, some of them believing the city elves are no more than pets for humans, and hence are ‘flat ears’ (humans) in spirit if not body, giving them a reputation of being haughty and condescending. In return, their urban kin view them as a myth, or in the same light humans do; bandits and heathens.
A Dalish Camp
The Dalish clans themselves can also be quite different from each other. Some clans will get along fairly well with humans, and might even camp outside of settlements for long periods of time. Other clans are more infamous, living by banditry and hiding like guerrillas in the mountain passes. The Dalish of Ferelden are on a more-or-less neutral basis with its human citizens while Dalish in Rivain have a semi-permanent settlement in the city of Llomerryn, though Rivian is the exception to the rule as the Dalish are feared as a race of savage elves in most parts of Thedas.
Dalish clans rarely encounter each other in order to protect themselves; their diaspora is as much of a blessing as is a curse. Since Dalish don’t if ever keep in contact between other clans, should one be exterminated by a human lord a difficult task in and of itself them being able to find the others will be nearly impossible. Only once a decade or so do the Dalish clans all meet together, and their Keepers, the elders and leaders of the Dalish who are responsible in keeping elven lore and magic alive, will meet together and exchange knowledge in a meeting called the Arlathvhen.
During such a time, the clans will recall and record any lore they have relearned since the past meeting, along with reiterating what lore they know already to keep their traditions as accurate and alive as possible. During such time, the clans will exchange relics dating from the two elven nations for safekeeping. The Dalish believe that all the relics they’ve preserved from the Dales and Arlathan belong to all the Dalish; such trades are seen as much of an act of sharing as is a matter of trade, and the same is true even for talented elves. Merrill for example was born in the Alerion clan, but due to her magical talents she was given to the Sabrae clan to be the First of Keeper Marethari as clan Alerion already had a number of gifted elves.
The Dalish live by a code known as Vir Tanadahl, meaning “Way of Three Trees.” It is made of three parts, which are:
Vir Assan (“Way of the Arrow”) – fly straight and do not waver
Vir Bor’Assan (“Way of the Bow”) – bend but never break
Vir Adahlen (“Way of the Forest”) – together we are stronger than the one
The three parts of the philosophy are often strung together as a sort of mantra, which the Dalish will often end with the phrase “We are the last of the elvhenan, and never again shall we submit.”
When Dalish elves die, their clan will bury them and plant a tree over their remains